Today we learn that there is always the potential for a surprise, especially through airport security and, they really do call out for a doctor when someone is ill on a plane.
Getting to Stansted Airport, unless you live in London, is a real pain. I’m lucky and just been visiting my grandkids in South London so my route is very nearly direct. It’s easy to be sucked into cheap tickets to anywhere but when you add in the cost of getting to the airport then, quite often, it doesn’t add up.
I’ve crossed London and now at London Liverpool Street Station and lucky enough to arrive just as the train for Stansted opens its doors for passengers, how good is that?
The last time I did this journey it was dark so nothing really to see; however, today is sunny and being able to see the back streets of North London is a bit of a treat. It’s a 40-minute journey direct to the airport and the transport links actually at the airport are great but getting there from anywhere in the North is awful.
There’s a lot of work happening at Stansted and various areas are cordoned off making it even more crowded than half-term-break would normally have it. In spite of Ryanair’s ludicrous changes to their hand-luggage policy with strange sizes to catch you out, I’ve ‘not yet’ had an issue getting my marginally larger rucksack through. It’s five centimetres (about a couple of inches) too long due to the backplate but the other dimensions are fine when wrapped tightly using the straps.
I’m not geared up for what happens in Security though. The queues are huge and we’re organised into zigging and zagging lines. There are four of them and I usually join the one that’s got more than its fair share of hold-ups and this time I do it again but there is a twist – I’m the hold-up. The bag goes into the scanning machine and appears at the other side then jerks to a halt at the dividing fork, you know the one, to the right goes all the ‘good’ baggage and to the left goes the ‘dodgy’ bags that need to be further investigated. I always hold my breath at this point due to an experience a couple of trips ago when I had an issue with an electric lead that was thought to be a bomb. This time should be fine though as I have all of the electrical stuff in a bag that has already been checked and I have it in my hands. The system jerks and it shoots up the bad-boy-conveyor, my heart sinks.
“You have some scissors in your rucksack”, it’s the lady that helped me load the different trays, the laptop on one, phone etc on another, rucksack on another and the liquids on yet another. I only have three liquids, a tube of toothpaste, some aftershave, and sunscreen but she made me put it on a tray of its own. Pea on-a-drum is a very apt description but all of that had come through successfully and was now back in my hands or at least in front of me. The rucksack; however, was not. I’m certain that there are no scissors in that bag, I don’t challenge the lady though ‘cos that’s not going to change her opinion until it’s been properly searched and approved for onward travel. Unlike last time I have lots of time so the only stress is related to the mystery of the scissors. SHe beckons me across and points at the shadow that she clearly thinks is a pair of scissors, it doesn’t look like scissors, it’s more like a flat piece of metal; in fact the only thing that gives the game away is a label that the scanner has added with a helpful little arrow pointing at the shadow “Scissors” proclaimed the label.
“I do have a metal compass in there”, I say in the hope of getting her sympathy and offering an excuse.
“Yes”, she responds, “That’s this one here”, and she points at another shadow. My mind is racing and I decide to hold my peace in case it looks like I’m guilty and she hasn’t removed all my stuff from the bag yet but I’m wondering what it could be, I know it’s not scissors so I’ll be exonerated but what might it be and hopefully it’s not going to be worse.
I offer a brief training course on how to open a rucksack at the top and also down the side so that she can access as much as possible without having to remove everything. That’s a pipe-dream and everything comes out. Socks, knickers, shorts, pully, thermal vest (it can get chilly in the mountains), pair of Sketchers (they’re comfortable and light) and Cyril – my stick. No scissors though.
“We’ll put it back through empty”, she says. This lady is from the Mrs May school of tenacity but having emptied the thing I’m happy to be proved right.
Off it goes into the scanner then comes to the ‘good-boy’ / ‘not-so-good-boy’ fork, hesitates and veers to the left. I’m still on the ‘naughty’ list. I’m thinking about spitting on the backs of my hands and rubbing my eyes. If I do it and make my bottom lip quiver a bit might I get some sympathy? …no!
She’s asking if the lining is zipped into the bag if not she’s going to have to cut it. Now I’m feeling this has gone way too far but the evidence is stacked against me even though I know that there’s nothing there.
“It’s not a part of the rucksack frame? There’s an upward inflexion to indicate that this is a question not a statement of fact.
“No”, she says, a little too quickly and then the ultimate irony, she asks her colleague for some scissors.
In the meantime I’m digging around in the rucksack looking for a zip – bingo, I find one and unzip the lining and she reaches inside and like a magician producing a rabbit from a hat removes her hand and in it …a pair of scissors.
Now if this had been drugs and the airport any city in Malaysia or the Philippines then I would have been in deep shit. I worked in Malaysia on several occasions and one particular visit involved sleeping in a hotel room that could be booked for all but one night in the month. The night it couldn’t be booked was for the activities that took place in the local prison and from that particular room, the activities could be both witnessed and photographed. It was the morning that the drug mules would face the gallows and this one room gave a full view of the proceedings over the prison wall. I think of this and shudder. OK, I’m only embarrassed and to this day have no idea how the scissors got in there. In fairness to the security lady, she is impeccably polite and merely binned them in a receptacle labelled sharps. I apologised profusely and feel such a dick but I am a little more circumspect when she confiscates my stick. ‘Cyril’ had been with me all over the Moors, Pennines and many places on the Continent but today he is going and I accept it with good grace but a moist eye that doesn’t need the fake evidence of spit on the back of the hand. I wave and he waves back from the bin into which he’s been unceremoniously tossed … ah well, c’est la vie … I’ll get another one from Santander but I wouldn’t want him to know that.
Stansted to Santander
The flight itself is ‘interesting’. Forty minutes in and I am nodding a bit when there is a noise behind me and a stampede of air stewards down the aisle.
There is a call for a doctor onboard and when this draws a blank, anyone with medical knowledge, still no-one comes forward, so they ask for taxi drivers and hairdressers and when they can’t help they plead for anyone that has read a women’s magazine health page. Still no-one so the pilot puts the plane into a steep dive with a view to landing on a pontoon in the Bay of Biscay so the unfortunate patient can be picked up with a Yorkshire Air Ambulance helicopter (alternatively, he might have been taking us to France)
A male nurse eventually draws the short straw and stuffs something in the poor victim’s mouth! This brings them round enough for us to finish the flight to Santander. I’m not sure it is anything sweet but they don’t go unconscious again!
At the airport, there is no blue-light activity so I assume that a reasonable recovery has been made and within minutes we start the zigzagging all over again but this time it is to one of the ‘two’ booths that are open to process 200+ travellers through passport control. Ah well, I’ve known it worse – then they close one and it is worse.
I’d already read that the airport bus leaves from immediately outside the terminal and within a few minutes there it is. I spend the waiting time looking up hotels on Tripadvisor and find one 200 metres from the City Centre that’s officially two stars and gets four and a half stars from the punters. I am aware that this can be bullshit but if you cross check this with registered hotels.Com users it’s usually OK so I book it for £26 – if it’s crap then I’ll walk away – it isn’t.
Nice place with a lovely lady on reception and clean. It’s also got a double bed, I’m delighted.
There’s a bar next door and the guy clearly feels that I’m underfed. I buy a beer and it normally comes with some kind of tapas and this is the case and it keeps coming. I was thinking of a bit of time downtime but change my mind and only three small beers later I’m full of prawns in mayo on a fresh baguette still warm (not the prawns), tuna on a different kind of ciabatta and a patè exquisitely presented with salad. Total cost €7 – you can’t make this up.
The morning is taken with some exploration in the city. The weather is fantastic and meandering around the art and wonderful buildings is a pleasure. I’m intrigued by the actions of some French girls who are giggling near some statues of full size nude men and women, They’re gathered around the gentleman and initially holding hands with him but you can see by the shine where hands eventually strayed, it would seem that boys and girls are the same the world over.
In the little time it takes me to walk across to the harbour the scene is repeated with another two groups!
San Vicente de la Barquera
The coach, like all continental transport, is designed around the customer and this is no exception. Seats with plenty of space between them, soft and deep cushioning, air-conditioning and always on time. If I were to be picky I would say that the number 11 bus should have been at the number 11 platform but they chose 33 so I have a bit of rush when I eventually realise that platform 11 is likely to remain empty.
The journey time is a little over an hour and through beautiful countryside so our arrival is a mix of delight that we’re here and a little disappointment that we’re not travelling through beautiful field and mountains.
I go immediately to the pensión that I’ve booked and there’s a sign that asks me to go to a cafe to register. I’m slightly wobbled but do as instructed and meet Carlos who’s very much larger than life. He takes me back to the hostel and shows me the room for approval which I like. It’s a twin bedded room and the beds are very much ample so I’m very happy. There’s also heating as well as air-conditioning the latter of which, I don’t think I’ll need this week.
St Vicente de la Barquera is a small town with a magnificent bridge and a castle. They’re particularly fond of planting flower beds and lining the roads with trees. I wander around and find a restaurant-come-bar opposite the main square and Plaza Mayor de Fuero. All Spanish Towns have a Plaza Mayor but this one seems to celebrate the law or some kind of charter. The sun is still shining so I have a beer and do some people watching, it’s at these times that I both don’t miss someone to share it with and, ironically, really do miss someone to share it with.
Enjoy the snaps…G..x
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